What is an exuberant twenty-something Norwegian singer-songwriter to do after releasing two critically acclaimed pop albums? If you’re Sondre Lerche, you add a pianist to round out your quartet and record a collection of jazz-inflected pop songs. With Duper Sessions, Lerche has done what many musicians wait until they are in the twilight of their career to do: reinvent themselves by radically altering their signature sound—a risky venture for most veterans, an even more dangerous move for a musician still on the rise. Fans of Lerche need not worry though, as he proves he’s got the chops to mix it up and still crank out endless hooks and clever lyrics.
Duper Sessions finds Lerche channeling Elvis Costello (performing a cover of “Human Hands”), Sinatra (listen for it on the slower numbers), and everyone’s favorite new chanteuse from the North, Leslie Feist. Recorded at the breakneck pace of two songs a day and mostly live, the album possesses an intimacy that very well could have been lost through over-production. Keeping with the pop formula, songs hover at two-to-three minutes long; short, sweet, and yet thoroughly satisfying.
The sauntering lounge piano of “Minor Detail” finds Lerche exploring romantic territory early on as he laments relationship minutiae: “It’s the major minor detail/ It’s a solitary sequel to never knowing anything at all.” A back-alley drumbeat (complete with shakers) and reluctant guitar warn against the arrows of affection on the jangly, “The Curse Of Being In Love.” And the weirdly resonating keyboard vibe of “Once In A While” is the perfect accompaniment to Lerche’s achy falsetto.
“Dead End Mystery,” with the chorus beckoning “How does the moon shine?/ How does the wind howl,” and the somber piano sheen of “(You Knocked Me) Off My Feet” will have Frank Sinatra smiling down from his cloud. Fifties do-wop reverb and minimalist percussion lead Lerche’s whispering sing-song on “You Sure Look Swell.” Like a scene from “Back To The Future” that should have been (eat your heart out Marty McFly), the song is a hearkening back to the “sockhop sound” in the same vein as 2005s Pretty In Black from Lerche’s neighbors, Danish band The Raveonettes.
In addition to Costello’s “Human Hands” Lerche also adds his own blend of swinging jazz-pop to two other covers, Paddy McAloon’s “I’m Not From Here” and Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” which was recorded live on one take. With help from his able-bodied quartet, Lerche submerges the tracks with his love for music from days passed with a modern panache.
Fearless when it comes to expanding his own musical horizons, Sondre Lerche and his Faces Down Quartet show that sometimes the best way to create a new and interesting sound may be to look to the past. And whether or not he returns to the pop of previous releases for his next recording or delves into different genres, Duper Sessions proves he can handle the change. Unless, of course, he develops a sudden appetite for heavy metal music, which his Scandinavian heritage might even lead us to believe could work.